Friday, January 25, 2013

Let make-believe open your eyes

The written word has always been an instrument to excite the imagination.  Last Saturday morning, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor--in an interview with NPR reporter Nina Totenburg--declared that it was reading books that opened her mind to a world outside her gritty New York tenement and made her strive for a life bigger and more full than what she knew. And more specifically, the books that cultivated her awareness were genre stories: science fiction and mystery. Like many girls, the young Sotomayor was pulled to Nancy Drew and while the fictional sleuth lived in social circles far beyond her ken at the time, those stories opened the future justice's eyes to the truth that a woman could be the captain of her destiny. Years later, when Sotomayor became a D.A., she bought a sports car to tool around in as did her hero, Nancy Drew.

Sotomayor's story parallels that of Hollywood director Jesús Salvador Treviño, who grew up the L.A. barrio of Boyle Heights. During elementary school, a prolonged stay in the hospital for pneumonia put an unexpected twist in his life. A nurse offered him books from the library cart, and she was shocked that he could barely read. She tutored him and by the time he was released, Treviño had mastered his reading skills and devoured almost every book he could find. His favorites: science fiction, and he credits those stories as opening his eyes to the possibilities of a world beyond the ghetto (why couldn't a Chicano invent stories about outer space?) and saving him from the clutches of gangster life. Like Sotomayor, Treviño fought and sacrificed to reach his dreams and has directed shows such as Star Trek, A New Generation, and Babylon 5.

The interview with Sotomayor was enlightening and inspiring, that is, until Totenburg screwed the pooch when she cavalierly dismissed the judge's preference for genre fiction, as when Totenburg said: "not that all her literature loves are so highfalutin," as a segue to when Sotomayor explains her love of mysteries. Totenburg implies of course (to the doltish and high-hatted opinion we mystery writers are all too aware of), that popular fiction is made of a cheaper cloth than "literary" reads. And moreover, Totenburg went so far as labeling Strunk and White's "Elements of Style," as a "dry manual on writing!" (Ack, I almost spilled my Mimosa when I heard that one.) Maybe I'm too close to the subject but every book on writing should be as dessicated of wit and personality. 

1 comment:

Donis Casey said...

Boo, Nina. Boo.